Careless insults stigmatize intellectual disabilities

Alexander Diaz-Lopez , Opinions Editor

As you walk around Wilson’s hallways, you’ve probably heard kids say “You’re so retarded,” or “that’s so SPED!” Students use the term “sped” (a common abbreviation for special education) as an insult when someone does something deemed “idiotic.” Though many of us don’t have bad intentions when using these words, “retarded” and “sped” aren’t words we should use freely. They are derogatory terms that are offensive and disrespectful to many students, especially those in special education.

The reckless use of these words causes a shift in their actual meaning. Originally, terms such as “mentally retarded” were associated with medical terms, but today “retarded” and “sped” are used as insults to degrade and humiliate individuals. By using these words in this context, we shame people who need special education and emphasize the idea that they are somehow defective. When we call people “retarded” and “sped” we create a stigma about students in special education.

Not only are we fabricating a false image of individuals with certain needs, but we are also generalizing those who are in special education. The term special education is an umbrella term with classifications regarding 13 different disabilities including autism, deaf-blindness, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury. When we use the term “sped,” we forget that it refers to people with any of these 13 conditions. Instead, we immediately view them as inferiors and devalue their intellect. We generalize them by thinking that they are all intellectually disabled. This is just simply wrong.

To show how negative the words “retarded” and “sped” have become, “Rosa’s Law” was signed into United States law in 2010 in reaction to the negative stigma and misuse of the term “mental retardation.” “Rosa’s Law” replaces the outdated term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor statutes.

Too many of us are oblivious to the troubles students with intellectual disabilities and in special education undergo each day. If we keep on using these offensive words, we are all accomplices in continuing this culture of marginalization towards students in special education. For this reason, I urge everyone here at Wilson to stop using the terms “sped” and “retarded.”